Over at the great bourbon blog Red, White & Bourbon, they take a look at the recent debate about ‘instant’ or artificially aged bourbon. We’ve tried a few of these – Jefferson Ocean 2, for example, and have a few others on deck like Cleveland Bourbon, but RW&B really takes an in-depth look at the methods, and controversy surrounding them.
I am extremely lucky in the fact that, because of my and my wife’s jobs, our situation and our hobbies, we get to travel a bit. And aside from all of the usual joys of traveling – new places, sightseeing, and different foods, among others – we get to try regionally specific bourbons. Trying something specific to a particular area is one of the things we enjoy the most, and with the explosion of regional distilleries in the past few years, the new things to try are more plentiful than ever.
I’ve focused on Michiganbourbons, Vermont bourbons, New York, Massachusetts, Colorado, among others. Today, I turn my sights to Missouri. I went to college there, long before the whiskey renaissance was in swing, and returned recently for a good friends nuptials (more on the drink we shared at a later time). I was pleased to see how many new and locally crafted whiskies there were (as opposed to sourced/bottled/labeled). With that in mind, I picked up a bottle of something I had never seen before, and took it home with me to try: Mad Buffalo Thunderbeast Baby Buffalo Bourbon.
First thing first – Mad Buffalo distillery has renamed itself since creating the bottle I purchased, going by Coulter & Payne Farm Distillery. A little bit of research explains why – this is truly a family endevour, and the names are representative of the family lines that both moonshined in Appalachia and farmed in Missouri. The family decided to make the Union, Missouri farm into a distillery in 2011.
Right from the get-go, they created a “ground to glass” model, the ultimate in sustainability. They use only non GMO grains, and plant, grow and harvest all of the ingredient crops right there on the farm, before distilling them and even barreling them in wood made from trees growing on the farm as well. This is the ultimate in artisan craft, and is respectable in every way. Currently they are making a variety of whiskies under the Coulter & Payne name, as well as a vodka and moonshine under the “Crop Circle” moniker.
So how is the juice?
Right off the bat, there is obviously something different about this bourbon. At 80 proof and an age statement of “under 4 years,” it has a youth and lightness in the nose – strong corn, a touch of caramel and vanilla and a little maple. But there is something else, something…floral. Almost perfume-y. There is an air of fresh mowed grass, and flowers, something distinctively earthy. It certainly confused me for several minutes and gave me pause.
The taste did not clarify things. Again, the corn was in front, with a soft sweetness expected in such a young drink. There was a soft caramel, a secondary note, and the mouth feel was not particularly thick, and more watery. As it spread out along the taste buds, however, there was a strange sort of bitterness to it that brought to mind certain kinds of bitter greens like spinach. It was earth, and my wife and I struggled to put our finger on it – dandelion? kale? Was it just the difference of not being cut with that limestone Kentucky water? The finish was short, but a slight bitterness remained. I couldn’t get past it.
When I added ice chips, the caramel and vanilla disappeared all together and the corn and bitter was all that remained, with a touch of spiciness around the corners. This taste was so distracting that I even checked my glass to make sure I didn’t have a little soap residue from the last washing.
I was bummed. I love everything about what they are doing, from an artisan and environmental standpoint. But with the bitterness, I am afraid this bottle is destined for the Manhattan/Sidecar collection.
Dan’s Rating: 6.3
Looking at the website, it looks as though the bottle I purchased was from 2014 or even 2013. Since then, in addition to the name change, they have introduced a host of new products including a Single Barrel and a Cask Strength. It is the cask strength I would most like to try, to see if the bitterness came from the water or was even limited to this particular bottling. I strongly encourage them to keep making whiskey in these new, great ways, and I do sincerely hope to try it again with better results.
I’m back. Not that you necessarily noticed I was missing, but I took a short sabbatical from reviewing and posting about bourbon (don’t worry, I took no sabbatical from drinking it!) to take care of some things and recharge. And I’m glad to say I’ve come out the other side refreshed, recharged and ready to go! In the summer months ahead, I have a ton of whiskies to review, ballparks to cover and other fun reads to post. So on with the show.
I certainly hope everyone had a great Memorial Day weekend – I certainly did, with a trip to see friends and family get married in St. Louis and New York City, respectively. Not only were my journeys an opportunity for my wife and I to spend time with many great people we do not see enough – it was also an opportunity to pick up and try some tasty regional bourbons. That’s where we start today – with Brooklyn’s own Kings County Distillery Bourbon.
Kings County Distillery has been on the scene for a little while now. Founded in 2010 in a building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Kings County Distillery is the definition of artisan distilling. They do not and have never sourced their liquor, distilling and aging it on site. Even the grains come from a nearby Brooklyn farm, and their pride in sustainable, local distilling is strong.
I first became aware of Kings County this year at the Bourbon Classic, where Master Blender Nicole Austin joined a host of bourbon and whiskey legends for the panel discussions and tastings. Unfortunately for me, the Kings County booth proved so popular that I never got a chance to make my way up for a sample. No mind, I was in NYC and it seemed an ample opportunity to check it out.
I had hoped to give the distillery a tour – and will make a point to in the future – but on this trip time was tight, so I used the distillery’s handy site and found a store right by our hotel where I could purchase a bottle. (As a note, if you are in NYC and looking for a fantastic collection of whiskey, check out Bowery and Vine if you haven’t already. Great selection, and fun service.) Bottle gotten, and back home – time for a tasting.
Dan’s take: First thing first, I do love the packaging. A hip flask bottle befitting a local distillery with a throwback touch. I do wish I was able to pick up a fifth, as a pint or half-pint were the only choices available. That said, it’s a pricey pour at $45 a pint, so my wallet is happy for the smaller size.
The color was a rich amber, not so young as to give away the relatively young age (anywhere from 1-4 years). Kings County makes their bourbon from NY corn and UK barley – they don’t mention rye – and the nose is very strong of the sweet corn smell. There is an almost perfume-like note as well, like dried raisin and honey. It took a few minutes to fully open (it is 90 proof), and when it did, the corn was most present.
The mouth feel was thick and slick, with a viscosity I also didn’t expect. It was soft, and buttery, and made for a most enjoyable sip. Admittedly, it tasted young, and not as sweet as the nose, but very smooth. Hints of cinnamon and light caramel presented, but I didn’t note any vanilla or maple. There was no bitterness to speak of, and the corn sweetness carried it through to the finish. Again, cinnamon was obvious in the finish, but it would not be unfair to say that the smoothness, rather than any particular flavor, was the primary observation. The finish was relatively short, without a real burn.
Blind tasting it, I may have known it was young, but how young I wouldn’t have suspected. It does not have the complexity of an 8/10/12 year pour, but does have a sweet smooth finish rarely found in something so new. Overall, I was impressed. This is a nice bourbon, distinctly…well, Brooklyn!
Dan’s take: 8.3
(Don’t worry, more NYC songs are coming with future reviews!)